Metadata for Data: Data Management Plan




What is metadata?

Metadata is structured information describing the characteristics of a resource; for example, the dates associated with a dataset or the title and author of a book. Metadata supports discovery, re-use and long-term preservation of resources. Metadata needs vary across scientific fields, but typically would cover the following: general descriptive and access metadata, data characteristics, archive terms and access policies. A metadata record consists of a set of predefined elements that define specific attributes of a resource. Each element can have one or more values; for example, a dataset may have multiple creators.

Why document data?

Documenting data enables other researchers to discover your data. Metadata about the nature of your files is also critical to the proper management of digital resources over time. Establishing a metadata strategy that sufficiently describes your data and meets your data management needs is an important part of a data management plan. Planning what metadata will be captured and how this data will be structured should occur at the beginning of a research project, before data collection begins. Doing so will make automation of metadata creation easier and reduce the need for time-consuming metadata capture or restructuring later in the lifecycle of the research project.

Metadata standards

There are a number of official metadata standards. Metadata standards are designed for different purposes, such as documenting the contents of files or documenting the technical characteristics of files. While it is not necessary to have an in-depth understanding of official metadata standards, it is important to create metadata that will be interoperable with recognized standards. Some scientific communities have established metadata standards (e.g., Astronomy Visualization Metadata Standard, Darwin Core, Ecological Metadata Language). The Digital Curation Centre provides a disciplinary metadata guide that unpacks metadata standards by discipline.


Access to and discovery of data may be facilitated through links in metadata records that are displayed in the discovery layers of repositories or online catalogs. A variety of data repositories exist at NCSU and through other institutions and organizations. For guidance in making your data discoverable, contact the NCSU Libraries.

Best practices

The NCSU Libraries suggests the following set of standard metadata elements that should be captured to describe the content of your data resources as well as the nature of the files.

  Field Description
General information Title Name of the collection of datasets or of the project that produced them
Creator Names and institutions of the people who created the data
Dates Key dates associated with the data, such as the date span covered by the data or date of creation
Funding agencies/period Organizations or agencies who funded the research and the periods of funding
Keywords Keywords or phrases describing the subject or content of the data
Identifier Unique number or alphanumeric string used to identify the data
Coverage (if applicable) Geographic coverage of the dataset
Access information Access restrictions Where and how your data can be accessed by other researchers
Technical details File formats Stata, Excel, tab delimited text, TIFF images, WAV audio, etc.
List of files  
Count of files  

At a minimum, metadata records should be kept in a fielded form, such as a spreadsheet, CSV file, or tab-delimited file. Auxiliary information necessary to interpret the metadata - such as explanations of codes, abbreviations, or algorithms used - should be included as accompanying documentation.

Who can you contact if you need help or have questions?

Please contact us at for assistance identifying the metadata necessary for the project to aid in both data management and search and discovery.